SAN FRANCISCO — Last October, the San Francisco 49ers were all alone in first place and already on their way to winning the NFC West title in commanding fashion in coach Jim Harbaugh's first season.
That's hardly the case this year as they prepare for their division opener at home Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks: There's a three-way tie at the top among Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle, all with 4-2 records.
"Everybody in our division got better," 49ers running back Frank Gore said. "That's OK, we're all right with that. We like it like that. We like it tough. We're tough enough to handle it."
After riding high for two weeks after consecutive blowout victories against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, the 49ers had little time to figure out all that went wrong in a 26-3 loss Sunday to the reigning Super Bowl champion Giants at Candlestick Park.
Speaking about the quick turnaround, Harbaugh said: "You've just got to go. You've got to go right away."
Seattle fullback Michael Robinson describes it this way: "Go get in a car accident and then try to play two days later. That's how it feels."
These teams — the last two division winners — faced off in Weeks 1 and 16 last year, with the 49ers eliminating the Seahawks from postseason contention with a 19-17 road win on Dec. 24. That was the 49ers' first win in Seattle since 2008.
And Harbaugh certainly has had his way against Seattle coach Pete Carroll of late, winning the last four meetings dating back to that surprising 55-21 rout by No. 25 Stanford against Carroll's 11th-ranked Southern California team in 2009.
The Cardinal even attempted a 2-point conversion with the game way out of reach — prompting Carroll's infamous "What's your deal?" when the coaching rivals met afterward at midfield.
Any ill will seems long gone for these two.